Seeing Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington share the stage would be way too powerful. The masters must be taken in synchronized doses to let us take in the magic.
The magnitude of what Hancock and Washington represent together weaves together the jazz continuum of past and future through both of these virtuosos.
Hancock’ legacy and influence on popular music has touched generations of musicians in multiple genres. Washington’s rich compositions express the full measure of jazz. They also surprisingly include significant elements of different genres, like classical and even house music, which appeal to many fans.
Washington recently opened for Hancock at the Hollywood Bowl.
Hancock continuously breaks boundaries. The trajectory of his career is proof. Entering college in 1956 as an electrical engineering major, he soon switched to music composition and formed his own group. Later he moved to New York to play with trumpeter Donald Byrd. Right out of the gate he landed a record deal with Blue Note and released his debut album as head of the band. Takin’ Off’ was the first album on Blue Note to feature all newly composed songs, such as Watermelon Man.
In 1963, Hancock became part of Miles Davis’ group. They both influenced each other’s sounds. Hancock has said Davis taught him the importance of constant experimentation. Davis also introduced Hancock to the electric piano.
Hancock put together The Headhunters in 1973 and recorded an album of the same name. The album’s hit single Chameleon became the first jazz album to go platinum.
By the mid-70s, Hancock was entertaining stadium-sized crowds internationally and had no less than four albums on the pop charts at once. Hancock’s Grammy-winning Rockit distinguished him as one of the first jazz musicians to embrace both synthesizers and turntables.
Hancock’s boundary-breaking continues to reach younger audiences establishing importance in their musical sensibilities. His 1970s material inspires and provides samples for generations of hip-hop and dance music artists. Few artists have had more influence on acoustic and electronic jazz, rhythm and blues and hip hop.
A New Dimension
Therein lies a musical connection to tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington. His foundation and his first love is jazz and it shows on his acclaimed album Epic. He grew up with a comprehensive exposure to music, with a musician father, Rickey Washington, and his aunt, Lula Washington of The Lula Washington Dance Theater. He started his first band in high school, The Young Jazz Giants, with Cameron Graves, Thundercat and Ronald Bruner Jr. Later in college, his first gig took him on the road with Snoop Dogg. Washington described the experience of working with Snoop’s producers as a blessing in disguise.
“They heard every nuance of exactly what they wanted us to play,” Washington said. “We had to really listen to the music, and the more I listened to it, the more I had a detailed ear. Like listening to music through a microscope.”
He developed that mentality and brought it to his band. It was like communicating in a new language with each other.
Washington has performed and recorded with many of his heroes, including Gerald Wilson, Raphael Saadiq, Mos Def, Quincy Jones, Stanley Clark and Chaka Khan. His experience is a bridge that connects him to Hancock’s music.
Washington and band made a big entrance to the stage with more than 30 members, including a DJ and choir, di rigueur for one of his shows.
“There are people of all races in LA,” said Washington as he led into Truth, a six-movement suite from his new EP, Harmony of Difference. “We’re lucky to have the diversity we do. Diversity is not something to tolerate, it’s something to celebrate.
“This is the Truth.”
The number is an artwork combining gospel, jazz and ethereal sounds enhanced by Cameron Graves keyboards, elegant strings and soaring brass. DJ Battlecat’s chill-worthy synthesized sounds circulated in perfect symphony.
The band struck hard with Change of the Guard firing this audience up. Washington, known for his robust sound, worked it with extraordinary perfection. He riffed, channeling back in time to Coltrane. And the band accelerated forward at light speed into electronic all-encompassing sound realms with the aid of Brandon Coleman’s keyboards.
Their finale was a tour de force. The Rhythm Changes from Epic plays elegantly, supported by Quinn’s vocals, with flowing horns and piano. As the pace quickened, inherent velvetiness elevated to vitality. Each verse elevated, creating a potent transformation into a house cut, live, with a full band and choir.
After a quick hello, Herbie Hancock and his band got right to it. Playing with the maestro were Vinnie Colaiuta, drums, James Genus, bass, Lionel Loueke, guitar and Terrace Martin, keyboards and saxophone.
The first number integrated a changing landscape of music. Starting off in ethereal nuances, Colaiuta soon delivered a distinctive percussive beat, segueing into a sturdy rhythm and blues, funk groove. This followed with breakdown steeped in straight ahead verve enhanced by Hancock on grand piano and Martin on keys and vocoder.
On Actual Proof Hancock and Colaiuta were fluid in deep conversation between piano and drums. Colaiuta, an amazing drummer, pounded out any expression with pure power and finesse.
Hancock and Loueke harmonized on vocoder next. The combinations of keys, guitar and vocals crisscrossed among each other taking us deep into the layered movement of this music.
Closing with Watermelon Man, Hancock showcased the number in an extended rendition, funking out on keytar and grooving with the band. In an interplay of Hancock’s improvisational keytar riff, Loueke’s rolling guitar ignited drums and Martins straight up jazz saxophone phrases merged together in an intoxicating crescendo of groovedom.